We in the West are accustomed to thinking that political and international relations should be determined by morality and opportunity, as well as by the use of caution in the face of violence—especially when incitement leads to the slaughter of innocent people. The world of Islamic extremism has a completely different view.
Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a prime example. Erdoğan, like the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, has learned to use incitement as an ideological weapon of war in his battle to become the prince of the Ottoman Empire’s rebirth.
The recent Islamist-terrorist attacks in France—though not commanded by Erdoğan—derive from his incitement in the same way that the frequent acts of terrorism committed in Israel are the fruit of Islamic anti-Semitism and Israelophobia.
Erdoğan aims to go down in history as the man who overturned the magnificent historical vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who viewed the Turkish nation as a bridge between the wider Islamic world—made up of more than one billion people—and the Judeo-Christian West. His embrace and use of the most extreme Islamist ideology—embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood that he welcomes and fortifies—is part of the doctrine that spurs him to be focal point for terrorists worldwide.
The slaughter in Nice on Thursday should be seen as an ideological-religious massacre. And though Erdoğan was not directly responsible for it, it came on the heels and in the midst of his incitement against France and its president, Emmanuel Macron. This incitement is not accidental on his part, but rather strategic.
His strategy is working in two realms simultaneously: the domestic and the international.
Let’s start with the former. Turkey is in dire economic and structural straits. To retain and enhance his power, Erdoğan imposes dictatorial restrictions on freedom of speech and religion—most of the country’s Christians have fled as a result—while denying human rights to women and other groups.
Where the latter is concerned, Erdoğan has been sparking and engaging in a new armed conflict in different regions, transporting his hegemonic frenzy to the physical and ideological terrain of the Ummah, that nation of extremist Islamists—including ISIS and Iran’s Shi’ite Ayatollahs—who believe that the world must eventually come under absolute Islamic domination, with the universal institution of Sharia law. To achieve this, he meets with, finances and supplies weapons to terrorist organizations—from al Qaeda to ISIS, from Hamas to Hezbollah—without distinction.
It is hard to ignore his repeated threats against France. On Sept. 13, demonstrators in Istanbul’s Beyazit Square warned Macron and the French people that they would “pay a heavy price” for upholding freedom of expression and supporting the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s decision to republish the cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed that sparked the January 2015 massacre of its editorial staff.
According to an account by the Gatestone Institute’s Uzay Bulut citing Turkish media sources, the protest, which started with the recitation of the Koran, continued with slogans denigrating the United States, Israel and France.
One speaker at the protest called Macron the “horned devil.”
A day earlier, on Sept. 12, Erdoğan responded to a statement by Macron about the need to be tough with Turkey with the following threats: “Mr. Macron, you will have many more problems with me … Do not mess with Turkey … You killed one million people in Algeria. You killed 800,000 Rwandans. You cannot teach us a lesson of humanity.”
Here he failed to mention the ruthless, inhumane and even slave-like history of the Ottoman Empire—the treatment of its religious minorities and its genocide of the Armenians.
To be sure, Erdoğan’s rhetoric, though often disjointed, is not mere rambling; it is part of his overall strategy. This is why he attacked Macron for defending free speech, as terrorists with hatchets were beheading innocent people in France to protest “offending” the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, in any way, including through satire.
It is also why he warns that if the E.U. doesn’t do as he says, he will flood Europe with Syrian refugees. And this is after having cynically regulated the passage of large groups of people headed to Syria to enlist in ISIS. And it explains his warnings of retribution against Israel and the Muslim countries—the United Arab Emirate, Bahrain and Sudan—which dared make peace with the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, one must not forget that words are not his only weapons, as his army is present in Syria, Armenia, Libya, Greece and Cyprus.
Erdoğan continues to play his cards through fear, which he uses to counter the moderate Muslim front being forged. The Abraham Accords, by their name alone, suggest the desire for a new interreligious agreement that poses a great risk to the Turkish president and, of course, the regime in Tehran.
It is against this kind of peace that he is stirring hatred. Unlike in the past, today he has multiple opponents, even inside his own camp.
Europe is afraid of him and his ideology. Let’s wait and see if the moderate Muslim world is less so.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.